Today, mountain biking has many sub categories and a plethora of products that cater to each. In order to choose the right gear to buy, you’ll need to determine what your mountain bike gear needs and priorities are.
Where do you ride? Who do you ride with? What is your budget? These are all great questions to ask yourself before buying a new saddle, tires, brakes, a complete bicycle, or anything related to your mountain bike. Answering these questions will help you narrow the choices to products that will benefit your mountain biking the most.
The experts at Jans are ready to help you at any point in your buying process. Whether you need a hand answering the big picture questions, or you’re trying to decide between one handlebar and another, we’d love to lend our expertise to assist you in making the right decision for maximum ride enjoyment. Visit Jans.com or our stores to get the best info so you can make the best decisions.
Tire Difference and Education
The tires on your mountain bike are your connection to the trail. The traction they offer in cornering, braking, and climbing are directly related to the control you have of your bike. Proper tire selection and set-up are often overlooked by many mountain bikers and can create inefficiency, discomfort, avoidable flat tires, and even safety issues.
Tires are made for lots of different purposes. A tire made to grip on wet roots and rocks back East may be a lousy rolling tire on smooth pack dirt on Utah single track, and a fast rolling tire may be scary in dusty conditions with a bit of loose granular on the trail surface.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to swap tires as riding conditions warrant. In the real world, cost and time limit our ability to keep extra tires lying around and to swap them out at will. However, a small education in basic tire design and theory can help you get your bike set up for the conditions your local trails offer. The best place to start – check with the local bike shop to see what the shop guys are riding (just make sure you are talking about the same type of riding).
For dirt that’s smooth and generally hard, you want a fast rolling tire like a Maxxis Crossmark. Look for a center ridge of tread that is relatively uniform without a lot of gap between the knobs. The smoother that center ridge is, the less the tire “bounces” along as it rolls, which lowers the rolling resistance and makes it easier for you to turn the cranks.
As the trails get baked in the summer and the dust kicks up and there starts to be that loose sandy gravely stuff on the surface, you need a tire with more pronounced knobs, particularly on the outer edges of the tread pattern. The separation between knobs allows the knobs to dig in between the loose stuff and grab to keep you from sliding out as you corner hard.
When you want a combination tire that rolls well but has some grip when you lay it over on loose dirt, look for a tire with lots of pronounced but relatively closely spaced knobs. The knob shape and the close spacing means the knobs are in continual contact with the dirt to avoid the up and down of widely spaced treads so they roll fast. What’s the downside to what sounds like the ideal combination? Mud. When it gets gloppy, those closely spaced knobs can’t shed the muck, and you end up with a rolling clay ball.
If you can swing it on your budget, a couple different sets of tires that are right for the various conditions in your area are a really nice set of options to have. If you can have two sets of rims so all you have to do to change treads is pop a couple of thru axles or quick releases, even better.
Inside the recommended tire pressure range, offered on the side of almost every tire, is the perfect tire pressure for any given day of riding. That perfect tire pressure varies with trail conditions, bike set-up, and largely, personal preference. Experimenting with different tire pressures will help you gain an awareness of the effect more or less air has on your riding experience.
Generally, more tire pressure makes the tire roll easier. Less pressure usually gives more traction, but only to a point. If the pressure gets too low, you are susceptible to pinch flats on tires running with tubes and “burping” on tubeless tires. Both situations lead to flats when you hit a rock garden or catch a bit of air, and that’s just a waste of time if you can avoid it.
On a 26” tire, a guy of 170 pounds might start with 42 psi in the front and 44 psi in the rear for a tubed tire. A woman of 125 lbs might try 35 psi in the front and 38 in the rear. If you are heavier than these examples, you’ll need more pressure to achieve the same results, and if you are lighter, vice versa. From there you can experiment to see what blend is best for your style of riding and the conditions of the dirt. Tubeless tires generally require 6 to 8 lbs less than tubed tires for the same results.
For 29ers, our sample 170 pounder may go with 37 psi in the front for starters with tubed tire, and 39 or 40 psi in the rear. Again, back off about 6 psi for tubeless tires. Again, from the starting point, a bit of experimentation is well warranted because 1) all tires don’t roll the same and you can use tire pressure to help compensate for grip or fast rolling characteristics as needed, and 2) the way you ride has a lot to do with the right tire pressure for you. Corner really hard and too little pressure will result in rolling the tire off the rim, while too much pressure means you won’t be able to get the maximum amount of tread pattern on the dirt resulting in a loss of traction.
Now that you have the idea, go find out how you roll. And carry an extra tube with you in case you happen to have a bit too much or too little pounds per square inch.